Why a How-To List Will Not Change Your Life…And What Will
By Anna Martinson, Leap of Faith Life Coaching
You know those wellness articles with a title like “How to Get Rid of Stress with 3 Easy Tricks” or “How to Achieve Your Goals in 7 Simple Steps”? They sound great, but the truth is, they almost never work. All those well-meaning suggestions miss the mark because they don’t address why most of us fail to make real, lasting changes in our lives. We all have beliefs, many unconscious, that sabotage our efforts, often without us even knowing why or how.
These how-to lists can be how-to-shame-yourself lists. The “simple” steps imply that the changes we could make are just that, simple and easy, and can be achieved by everyone. Unfortunately, when we try and don’t succeed, it’s common to fall into negative, critical self-talk: “Ugh, I can’t! I’ve already tried that and failed. Something is wrong with me. I know this, why can’t I follow through?!” We feel so ashamed of failing that we often engage in even more of the behavior we want to change, just to get some comfort and relief from all the bad feelings. It’s a vicious cycle.
I am going to use setting boundaries as a personal example of my healing journey and how quick fixes can be unrealistic. As a child I learned from my family that my needs weren’t important or valued but instead were wrong or selfish. When I cried, my father yelled at me to “Stop that crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about!” I learned to shove my feelings and needs aside, be quiet, and put the needs of others before my own.
Naturally I carried this pattern into adulthood. As a result, I often felt anger and resentment in relationships when I was giving more than I was getting. I felt disregarded, not heard, unappreciated, and not respected. In order to change what wasn’t working, I had to look at what part I played in these scenarios, how I was allowing and reinforcing these unwanted behaviors, and how I tried to be everything to everyone, losing myself in the process. To quote Dr. Phil, “We teach people how to treat us.”
Working with a fabulous life coach who gently supported me every step of the way was instrumental in my ability to stop sacrificing my needs for the needs of others. Over time I was able to transform old beliefs and heal old wounds allowing me to start setting clear boundaries. I was able to transform some limiting beliefs quickly while others took a little more time.
A few years ago I plastered “Put Yourself First” post-it notes all over my kitchen and bathroom mirror as a reminder that I am valuable, that my needs are important, and to ask for what I want. I had great intentions, but my follow-through fell short. My beliefs, many unconscious, prevented me from being that kind to myself. Now I know my needs have the right to exist and to be respected. I am able to set my boundaries with more clarity and a knowing that they deserve to be heard and honored.
If you’re focusing on what you’re not accomplishing, let yourself off the hook! Show yourself loving and gentle compassion for doing the best you can in this moment. If you notice your mind moving into negative self-talk, make a conscious effort to speak to yourself in kinder, gentler language. Notice how different you feel inside when you express kindness to yourself. Practice this daily until it starts to feel natural—it will transform your life. You deserve your most loving attention.
If one of the “Steps to…” articles addresses a change you would like to make in your life, begin by picking just one of the steps. Next, narrow it down even further. Choose one action that is so ridiculously easy that you will be able to follow through on that initial change. Not perfectly. Not every day, but change will come, especially when you’re patient and loving toward yourself.
Some of our ingrained behaviors do take time to change and that’s OK. If you’re stuck in any area of your life and need help, asking for support is a powerful act of self-love. If setting clear boundaries, quieting your inner critic, and living with more peace and joy is your desire, I am here to support you. You matter!
Anna Martinson, BS, Certified Life Coach, Mind-body Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist, Leapoffaithlifecoaching.com, 715-834-3959, firstname.lastname@example.org. Anna specializes in coaching for loving email@example.com. Anna specializes in coaching for loving self-care, grief and loss, stress reduction, Adult Children of Alcoholic concerns, adoption, and mind-body coaching for pain reduction.